Remembering a Wizard: Sir Ganga Ram
People know him as a marveled engineer of his time with lasting imprints on the edifices and aesthetics of modern day Lahore. People know him as a celebrated philanthropist who if quoted to the actual words ‘gave like saints’. People know him as a reformist agriculturist, with a deep insight into water works who established a novel private estate and an agricultural enterprise of its times. A well bred and educated gentleman who joined the imperial service through distinction in the academia, left an unprecedented mark through the projects undertaken at Lahore as well elsewhere in the British Empire and who, post retirement eventually settled to prove that he was an agriculturist at heart. The agriculture estate of Gangapur was established by employing the visionary mechanical and electrical tools of irrigation and was coupled with a feat of town-planning in itself, but dear readers, more on it a bit later. The reason of my attraction here were neither the architectural landmarks of Lahore nor the irrigation wizardry at Gangapur (being unaware of the same till actually visited the place), but was a unique railway track, laid in 1898 and one of its kind that had connected the village Chak no. 591 GB – Gangapur with the neighboring Buchiana Mandi in Jaranwala, Faisalabad. Away from the standard broad gauge and not so standard meter gauge, it was a railway track where the lines were mere 2 feet apart on which a trolley plied, pulled by no steam power, but horses.
On the recent trip to my village in Faisalabad, I had a few planned excursions beforehand. One out of those was to explore this mini railway track from Buchiana to Gangapur (around 2 miles stretch) on which plied the Horse Tram, popularly known as Ghora Train and Anokhi Sawari with the locals. I had little hopes of finding the track intact and it was the possibility of exploring some hidden and obscured remnants that excited me out on the venture. Since it was a trip to explore something related to Railways, the services of two veterans from Pakistan Railways were sought. Abbu and Taya Abbu (my father and uncle) gladly made themselves available and accompanied us (me and my cousin). The group took on the much sought out journey to Chak No. 591 GB – Ganga Pur, named after Rai Bahadur Sir Ganga Ram who on a barren land developed an agricultural enterprise through unprecendented irrigation mechanisms. The same Ganga Ram, dear reader, who was an Executive Engineer of Lahore for over 10 years and who gave away enormously in charity and with whose introduction the current post begins.
The trip started on the planned route that just got deviated right at the outskirts of my village. Abbu and Taya wanted to ply through some old routes reviving their childhood memories and I gladly obliged. Till Jaranwala we had some wonderful tales of the school and college days of our parents, the mention of their teachers, old buddies and I must admit that it added a unique flavor that made this outing different right from the outset. As we approached Buchiana and headed towards it’s Railway Station on the Lahore – Jaranwala – Shorkot track, just outside the station, I spotted for what we had traveled the distance and it was with a joy of having discovered something I had read stories about. There was this track, two thin lines of steel with as little a distance in between as if in love with each other ran from Buchiana towards Gangapur. From the condition of the track it was evident that the Tram was abandoned, but the continuous track without any missing parts was a pleasant surprise. As we reached the docking station at Gangapur we discovered some abandoned trollies and it was then the actual story got revealed unto us. There was this ‘political’ style inauguration plaque with a year 2009 inscribed on it. Dear readers, the track was a visionary endeavor of Sir Ganga Ram and was laid in 1898 to transport the heavy mechanical parts of the machinery that was required to be installed for the irrigation system at Gangapur. Pulled by the horse the trolley was kept in service to transport people and other load between the two villages and it remained functional till 1998. Popularly came to be known as Anokhi Sawari as well as Ghora Train it was one of its kind the likes of what are nowhere to be found in Railways history. It’s ironic that the said ride was abandoned in 1998 on (reportedly) financial reasons. The district government refurbished the project and launched Ghora Train again in 2009 with the typical political pomp and parade. Here I found a picture of the inaugurating person (a district administration official) enjoying the post launch virgin ride pulled by a horse. On that afternoon of Oct 2014 merely 5 years after the revival of Anokhi Sawari it was heart breaking to see the service abandoned with the Trolleys, Trolley Shed and Railway Line displaying our characteristic neglect. If it was relaunched as a cultural heritage, it was supposed to stay, unfortunately it was a political pomp of its time and hence didn’t last long. We enjoyed some expert discussion on the make and mechanism of Trollies from the Railway Veterans, took a few snaps and eventually said our prayer for the marvel of its times that could not sustain the negligence of the very people who enjoyed it.
Visiting Sir Ganga Ram’s haveli was my idea as I had learnt that it stood in its original shape there at Gangapur. As we were inquiring our way to the place, we got lucky to bump into this local person who happened to be a retired official from the Irrigation Department. The gentleman was kind enough to let us have the sneak peak from inside the haveli having talked to the current residents and also spared time and tour guided the remaining trip giving us detailed information on everything we came across. The haveli stood in all its somberness in original shape with the seasoned trees of the original times. There was a calm in the scene as if we were back to the times when this haveli was inhabited by its builder and the first settler Sir Ganga Ram himself. Just beside the haveli was the Ganga Ram Free Dispensary. We discovered that in those days the place was a fully functional hospital that treated the patients free of any charges. There was this second shock to come across the old hospital building almost wiped out with what was left were some ruined huts. We were told by our host that a lot of space had been cunningly annexed to the private properties of a few influential people in the village.
A fascinating sight was a mini Ghanta Ghar (The Clock Tower) in the central cross section of the village. A closer examination revealed that in fact the village Gangapur was schematically built on the lines of a mini town planning. Our host revealed and we went on to examine that at the Clock Tower Square, from the four corners emerged the main bazaars having on their auxiliaries the four small bazaars. A model exactly on what the Faisalabad Ghanta Ghar is built with its main and auxiliary bazaars. Dear readers, standing there in the main square, it was a treat to witness the finely carved out and properly organized bazaar lanes as the main business area of Gangapur. The village in itself reflected a finely cut, well laid out and equally maintained outlook.
The next stop was on the periphery of the village right where we faced the vast stretch studded with the greenery of orchards and the soothing view of finely ploughed fields. This was the Agricultural Enterprise developed by Sir Ganga Ram out of a barren stretch of land through a technique nothing short of wizardry. The real challenge was how to use the waters from the Goghera Branch Canal running beside Gangapur at water level lower than that of the village. We were narrated upon the tale of that novelty, a giant pumping station to lift the water level that was built with the electrical and mechanical systems in place, a combination never experimented with earlier, and our host in his own traditional folk way tried to draw a sketch for our imagination and it was me who impatiently asked for a visit to that irrigation motor station. It was a disappointment to learn that the said attraction existed no more without any sign of the infrastructure that once stood there. We learnt that the maintenance and running of the fields is being organized by a local council of Gangapur. As we passed by a newly constructed school building and a stadium style playground (though it was crowded with the shamianas in preparation for an upcoming wedding) we were told by our host that these structures were in fact built in a hurry as decided by the council elders fearing the realization of a claim by Ganga Ram descendants (presumably form Sind and there was a mention of some restraining order by the court of law as well, but I did not inquire the details) that the peripheries of the said estate were annexed to the village and these buildings constructed hurriedly.
At the culmination of the tour we exchanged some warm greetings with our host and left Gangapur. I, dear reader, was left stranded with the thoughts as to how the people, the sole beneficiaries of Sir Ganga Ram’s marvelous feats in engineering, agriculture and healthcare at Gangapur actually returned the favor. A vanished hospital, an abandoned mode of novel transportation and manipulation, bit by bit of the agricultural estate were the hard answers!